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Hyperion Records

CDA67548 - Tallis: Gaude gloriosa & other sacred music
CDA67548
Recording details: January 2005
Fitzalan Chapel, Arundel Castle, United Kingdom
Produced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Engineered by Martin Haskell & Iestyn Rees
Release date: July 2005
Total duration: 67 minutes 45 seconds

GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNER
GOLDBERG MAGAZINE 50 DISCS OF THE DECADE

'In its entirety this disc is a sublime tribute both to one of England's greatest composers, and to the skill and conviction of one of today's finest ensembles' (Gramophone)

'This superbly sung selection of some of his finest Latin church music will surely prove to be one of Tallis's very best 500th birthday presents. It is hard to imagine a better performance of the magnificent six-part votive antiphon Gaude gloriosa' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This is the first manifestation of the new exclusive contract between Hyperion and the Cardinall's Musick. With Andrew Carwood's scholarly approach to Tudor music, coupled with the individual excellence of each of his singers and the superlative production values of Hyperion, I suspect this is going to be a very fruitful collaboration' (International Record Review)

'This is a highlight of the Tallis year' (Fanfare, USA)

'This marvellously full-throated performance can stand comparison with any … throughout, the performances maintain the high level The Cardinall's Musick have consistently displayed in their Byrd series, being beautifully tuned and balanced … a strong 5-star recommendation' (Goldberg)

Gaude gloriosa & other sacred music

Hyperion’s record of the month for July celebrates the (probable) 500th anniversary of the birth of England’s first superstar composer, Thomas Tallis, and welcomes the signing to the label of The Cardinall’s Musick and Andrew Carwood.

In a fifteen-year history The Cardinall’s Musick has progressively built an enviable reputation for excellence. Some twenty recordings on the ASV Gaudeamus label have seen accolades from around the world, including a Gramophone Award and a Diapason d’Or, while in the concert hall and workshop the group has consistently displayed innovation and a freshness of approach, whether tackling contemporary works (many of them commissions) or sharing the fruits of years of research into the music of the English Renaissance.

With this first recording for Hyperion, The Cardinall’s Musick turns to the period of its namesake, Cardinal Wolsey, and specifically to the music of Thomas Tallis. Gaude gloriosa takes centre stage. One of a series of monumental and extended motets (each lasting getting on for twenty minutes), this should be regarded as the summation of the genre—whereas Tallis’s earlier attempts such as Salve intemerata or Ave Dei Patris filia can seem to ramble somewhat, in Gaude gloriosa we find a sure-footed and eloquent response to an unusual text in honour of the Virgin Mary, and a work which takes singer and listener alike into a world of unremitting fervour.

Other works on this recording include the famous Loquebantur variis linguis and O nata lux settings, the five-voice Latin Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, and Suscipe quaeso Domine—where a particularly gloomy text (thought to have been written to mark England’s reconciliation with Rome on the accession of Mary Tudor) elicits from Tallis some truly extraordinary and rhetorical effects with harmonic shifts which are every bit as shocking today as they must have been at the work’s first performance in 1554.

Future plans for The Cardinall’s Musick on Hyperion include the completion of their on-going remarkable series encompassing the complete Latin church music of William Byrd.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When Henry VIII broke with the Roman Church over the issue of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon he and his advisors plunged the country into decades of unease and instability. Certainly there had been criticisms of the pre-Reformation Church and discontent over a number of political issues, but England was a remarkably devout country – in terms of liturgy and observance, as devout as they came. Henry himself was foremost amongst the defenders of the Catholic Church, proudly holding the papal title ‘Fidei Defensor’ (found on British coins to this day) for writing a scathing attack on Luther and his heretical doctrines.

Once the split was underway the fabric of society was changed through the systematic dissolution of the monasteries from 1536 onwards. The end of the religious houses and collegiate chapels meant that the people were more able to see and hear the drama of the Mass even if they could not understand its more subtle points. But in terms of liturgical change, Henry’s reforms left much unchanged – ‘Catholicism without the Pope’ as it is sometimes termed. It was only with the accession of the boy-King Edward VI and his Protestant advisors that a significant difference became obvious, with the two English Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552. On Mary’s accession Catholicism was restored, England reconciled with Rome and a Latin liturgy re-established. On her sister Elizabeth’s accession a ‘third way’ was found: a path which disliked extremism of any sort and which tried to establish a peculiarly English ecclesiastical ‘pax’.

For composers of liturgical music these cataclysmic changes meant that they had to make a decision: whether to remain true to the old faith and stop writing music altogether (as did Nicholas Ludford) or whether to repudiate old beliefs and embrace the new (John Merbecke). Later in the century, others seemed able to cling to the old beliefs in spite of the prevailing political wind, producing music for both the English Church and motets which resonated with the recusant Catholic community (Robert Parsons and William Byrd). Thomas Tallis seems to have steered a remarkable path through the lives and whims of four sovereigns, producing music acceptable to each of them and living a long and discreet life. Amongst his output are large-scale votive antiphons for Henry VIII, shorter pieces in English for Edward VI, liturgical music for Mary, and liturgical and domestic motets in English and Latin for Elizabeth.

Of Tallis’s early life we know very little. His first employment record is as organist of the Priory in Dover in 1532, which perhaps suggests Kent as his area of birth. Dover Priory was a small Benedictine monastery which was dissolved in 1535, suggesting that something may have been very wrong with the community (Henry’s dismantling of the smaller houses did not begin in earnest until 1536). No record exists of Tallis’s departure from Dover but we know he was in the employ of St Mary-at-Hill in Billingsgate in London during 1537/8 and that by the autumn of 1538 he took a position at Waltham Abbey in Essex. If Tallis was hoping for security at Waltham he was disappointed. 1538 was also the year that saw the dissolution of the larger monastic houses and Waltham was no exception, being closed on 23 March 1540 (the last English abbey to be dissolved). Being a recent employee, Tallis received no pension from Waltham Abbey but he did get 20s in outstanding wages plus an extra 20s. However he soon gained a place in the newly founded choir of Canterbury Cathedral – where he headed the list of twelve singing men in 1540 – but remained there for only two years, having been appointed to the most prestigious and desirable position for a professional Tudor musician – Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. The exact date of his joining is not known but he is recorded in the list of gentlemen in the lay subsidy roll of 1543/4. Perhaps this new position gave him extra security and confidence for in about 1552 he took a wife, Joan. He remained a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal for the rest of his life, rising steadily until he became its most senior member, finally being titled ‘Organist’ in the 1570s.

Tallis died in 1585 and is buried in the Church of St Alphege in Greenwich where is found this gentle, modest and touching epitaph:

Enterred here doth ly a worthy wight,
Who for long tyme in music bore the Bell;
His name to shew was Thomas Tallys hyght;
In honest virtuous lyff he did excell.
He served long tyme in Chapell with grate prayse,
I mean King Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes,
Quene Mary and Elizabeth our Quene.
He maryed was, though children he had none,
And lived in Love full three and thirty Yere,
With loyal Spowse, whose name yclipt was Jone,
Who here entomb’d now company him bears.
As he did lyve, so also did he dy,
In mild and quyet sort, O! happy man.
To God ful oft for mercy did he cry,
Wherefore he lyves, let Death do what he can.

One of the most difficult tasks facing the Tallis scholar is any attempt to impose chronological order on the composer’s output. The five-part Latin Magnificat and Nunc dimittis are especially problematic. They survive in a unique Elizabethan source but their style and form point to an earlier date of composition. Tallis adopts the usual practice of alternating chant with polyphony in the pre-Reformation style but there is no use of cantus firmus nor faburden. Furthermore the old-style melismas are not in evidence and there is a much greater use of syllabic writing, nor are there any sections for soloists or reduced forces as one might expect. Here also is a rather less euphonious Tallis at work than can be seen in the pieces more securely attributed to the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth. So the evidence seems to point to a compositional date late in Henry VIII’s reign.

The other pieces with specific liturgical functions are also difficult to place. With the sweeping away of the old religion away went the old musical forms (Masses, Lady Masses, Magnificats and votive antiphons to Our Lady) and into vogue came more general motets and settings of hymns and responsories. John Taverner seems to have led the way in this respect, producing two versions of the Easter responsory Dum transisset Sabbatum and perhaps even establishing a form then copied by other writers: a plainsong incipit, a full-choir section (in three parts, ABC), a plainsong verse, a full choir repeat (B and C), a plainsong doxology and a final full choir repeat (C only). Taverner’s death in 1545 means that his settings must have been written during the reign of Henry, and perhaps Tallis and John Sheppard began their settings at about the same time. Certainly Mary would have welcomed such liturgical pieces as useful for her re-established Roman Church; the only thing about which we can be sure is that they would have had no place in Edward’s fiercely Protestant interlude.

According to the rite of Salisbury, Jesu salvator saeculi and Sermone blando angelus are both hymns for use from Low Sunday until the Ascension Vigil, the first at Compline and the second at Lauds. They are similar in style, essentially syllabic and homophonic, and alternate plainsong with composed music, the cantus firmus being preserved in the top part. Tallis takes the opportunity to reuse material, merely swapping the contratenor and tenor parts (verses 2 and 4 in each case use this scheme and in Sermone blando verse 6 and the doxology have the same music). These pieces, like all of Tallis’s hymns, are modest, clear and compact – entirely suited to performance within the liturgy.

Loquebantur variis linguis is an example of a polyphonic responsory as established by Taverner: both Tallis and Sheppard contributed a number of pieces to the genre. This motet for Pentecost (as with most responsories by Tallis) places the cantus firmus in the tenor part whilst the other six parts weave a vigorous web of polyphony around it culminating with a fulsome setting of the word ‘Alleluia’.

Tallis’s monumental votive antiphon, Gaude gloriosa is another piece requiring some detective work. At first glance it appears to sit firmly within the pre-Reformation style. A setting of a lengthy and rambling text to the Virgin, it is similar to those set by the older masters such as Robert Fayrfax, Ludford and Taverner. What imitation is present in the piece is modest and short-lived and the whole makes its effect through its length (461 bars), wide vocal ranges and superb control of dramatic gestures. Contrast is created by juxtaposing sections for reduced forces with settings for full choir: all characteristics typical of the pre-Reformation style.

Yet there are good reasons for supposing a later date of composition. Compared with Tallis’s early compositions (Ave rosa sine spinis, Ave Dei Patris filia and Salve intemerata virgo), Gaude gloriosa shows a considerable advance in confidence, structure and effect. The earlier pieces can seem rather sprawling, and in some cases appear to be the work of a composer learning his craft. Indeed Ave Dei Patris filia refers to Fayrfax’s work of the same name much in the style of a student exercise. Yet Gaude gloriosa is sure-footed and eloquent, a considerable advance on his early work. It is scored for six voices rather than the more usual five-part texture and sports divided tenors, a baritone and a bass part allowing a thicker sonority than is sometimes usual for an early sixteenth-century composition. The full sections contain little respite for the singers, with hardly a bar’s rest in any voice part, lengthy and demanding writing and a fairly constant exploitation of the upper register of the top part. In short it is bigger, thicker and more well-nourished than the earlier style. The sections for solo voices are the work of a mature composer, especially in the section making use of the treble and alto gimmells (the voices split into two parts) and, perhaps most tellingly, there are no duets (de rigueur in earlier pieces). It is almost as if this is Tallis remembering an older style, recreating a sound world banished by Edward VI.

One further point needs consideration. The text, an extended paean to the Virgin Mary is deeply Catholic. It seems unlikely that such words would have been deemed appropriate in the latter days of Henry VIII, even when he was having a more Catholic phase. Yet this text in nine sections each beginning with the word ‘Gaude’ would have been just the sort of piece that Mary Tudor might have wanted to hear, one which could knit together both the old and new: a celebration of the world of her youth in its form and text and, through its very composition, a bedrock for her new Catholic order.

The remaining pieces are all found in the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae volume published jointly by Tallis and his younger friend and colleague William Byrd after they were granted a monopoly on the printing of music. It is a collection of Latin motets with each composer contributing seventeen pieces, perhaps to celebrate the number of years during which Elizabeth had ruled.

Much discussion has taken place about Suscipe quaeso Domine, a monumental piece in two sections scored for seven voices. It has been suggested that this text, strongly penitential and rhetorical, could have been written and performed at the ceremony when Cardinal Pole (appointed Archbishop of Canterbury by Mary Tudor) absolved England from schism in November 1554. Certainly it is full of passion and shows Tallis to have an unusually close relationship with his text. The harmonic shift and use of homophony at the word ‘peccavi’ (‘I have sinned’) juxtaposed with the upward yearning of ‘gratia tua’ (‘by your grace’) is certainly powerful, whilst the emphatic questions in the second part and the repeated ‘Quis enim iustus?’ (‘For what just man?’) demand the listener’s attention. In many ways the involvement with the text and the use of rhetoric seems to lead directly to William Byrd’s setting of Infelix ego, another intensely personal text which gives rise to an intensely personal response from the composer.

O nata lux is a setting of two verses from the hymn at Lauds on the Feast of the Transfiguration. It makes no provision for the singing of the other verses and is obviously a motet in its own right rather than a hymn for Divine Office. Taking his earlier hymns as its starting point, it is homophonic throughout and perfect in its subtle harmonic and melodic touches and, rather in the manner of Tallis’s English anthems, it repeats its final section.

Absterge Domine was one of Tallis’s most popular settings appearing in four contrafacta sources as well as the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae. Deeply penitential in character, it falls into a number of short sections some of which are repeated for dramatic effect. Tallis’s sure hand for drama is obvious throughout, allowing the motet to rise and fall, using minor and major modes to heighten and release the dramatic flow.

Mihi autem nimis sets the antiphon of the Introit for the Feast of Apostles in a quiet, devotional way. Many of these pieces in the 1575 collection could well have been used in domestic settings as well as for the liturgy. Latin remained the usual language of law, diplomacy and education and would have been perfectly acceptable in an institution like the Chapel Royal or as part of a domestic ‘spiritual entertainment’.

It is possible that Derelinquat impius, a plea for the sinful to return to the Lord, was one of the last pieces written by Tallis. He appears to be almost in experimental mode, defying any tonal centre from the outset so that the cadence in A major at bar 17 feels surprising and unsettling because of the peregrinations of the opening bars. There are eyebrow-raising melodic moments also, like the upward leap of a seventh at the word ‘misericors’ (‘merciful’) and some wonderful textural effects throughout. This is a setting of the fifth respond at Matins on the First Sunday in Lent according to the Tridentine rite. Also in the 1575 collection is Tallis’s setting of the third respond (In ieiunio et fletu) and Byrd’s setting of the fourth (Emendemus in melius). Surely it cannot be coincidence that these three settings appear together. Tallis’s settings, unlike Byrd’s Emendemus, do not allow for liturgical repetitions but perhaps a more subtle message was being sent to the recusant Catholic community. Alongside their business relationship and mutual respect Thomas Tallis and William Byrd also seemed to share an allegiance to the faith of their fathers.

Andrew Carwood © 2005


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'Tallis: Salve intemerata & other sacred music' (CDA67994)
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